Tag: NHI

Let’s be Pragmatic – the NHI has Constructive and Contentious Aspects

By Susan Cleary for Spotlight

Professor Susan Cleary delivering her inaugural lecture as part of a lecture series by the University of Cape Town. (Photo: Supplied)

President Cyril Ramaphosa recently signed the NHI Bill into law. The question is whether this will bring South Africa closer towards Universal Health Coverage. Professor Susan Cleary argues that the NHI is a wide ranging reform with both positive and controversial aspects. The key will be to find a middle ground in order to continue on the journey to UHC.

President Cyril Ramaphosa signing the National Health Insurance (NHI) Act on the eve of the elections is a smart move from the perspective of a political party seeking to shore up its base. The concern though to those of us working to strengthen the health system is whether the NHI will enable the country to move closer towards Universal Health Coverage.

For the NHI naysayers, perhaps it would be important to alleviate some fears and concerns. The NHI is a long-term project. In the 2024 budget, National Treasury reduced the conditional grant allocations to the NHI in comparison to what was allocated in the 2023 budget. While signing the NHI Bill into law is a step forward, the reduction in resources towards NHI implementation reminds us that this is a long term project. In addition, it is likely that there will be legal challenges which will lead to considerable delays for the scheme to be fully implemented.

The NHI is a wide-ranging reform, with many positive aspects sitting alongside some key controversial aspects. Positive aspects include the opportunity to enable greater use of evidence and transparency in priority setting through the further institutionalisation of Health Technology Assessment processes (akin to ‘NICE’ in the UK), as well as the opportunity to use national-level purchasing power to drive down the prices of commodities such as medicines. The role of private multidisciplinary practices (GPs, nurses, health and rehabilitation professionals, etc) in the future NHI also holds some promise to improve access to healthcare particularly to parts of the country with limited access to public clinics.

On the other hand, there are two key controversial aspects. The first is related to what may or may not happen to medical schemes and medical scheme administrators once the NHI is fully implemented. My sense is that there is no short-term concern in this regard. A bigger concern is whether a single pot of money in the NHI fund will present a larger or a smaller corruption risk than the current situation of multiple pots spread across provincial treasuries and medical aid schemes.

Another concern is that the NHI reform might disrupt our ongoing progress towards Universal Health Coverage within our existing public sector. Our public sector is not perfect, but it is a system that has equity at its heart. The common definition of Universal Health Coverage is to provide all individuals and communities with access to needed promotive, preventive, resuscitative, curative, rehabilitative and palliative health services of sufficient quality to be effective, while ensuring that the utilisation of these services does not expose users to financial hardship.

The two main goals of Universal Health Coverage are: (1) the provision of quality health care services to those in need and (2) the avoidance of financial catastrophe in this process. Clearly healthcare is far from free – indeed it is very expensive – and so the goal of avoiding financial catastrophe is about implementing prepayment and risk pooling mechanisms, whether these are tax or insurance based.

Let’s first look at how we are doing on the provision of quality services. The below figure plots countries according to their achievements on the Universal Health Coverage Service Coverage Index. In this context, coverage of essential health services is measured based on indicators that include reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health, infectious diseases, non-communicable diseases and service capacity and access, among the general and the most disadvantaged populations.

On this index, South Africa’s achievement is at just over 70%, similar to many other middle-income countries. While there would be room for improvement, our performance is in line with our global peers.

Global comparison of countries in terms of service coverage and quality

Source: World Health Organization – Global Health Observatory (2024) processed by Our World in Data. Accessed May 2024.

The second indicator is financial risk protection. The below figure plots countries against the percent of total health expenditure that is paid out of pocket at the point of use. On this indicator, we score 5.7%, indicating extremely high levels of financial risk protection.

Global comparison of countries in terms of the percent of total health expenditure that is paid out of pocket

Source: World Health Organization (via World Bank) processed by Our World in Data. Accessed May 2024.

While this does not mean that there are no instances of financial catastrophe, undoubtedly there would be, particularly for those seeking treatment for certain types of cancers. That said, over the past two decades I have studied this issue extensively. Across a wide range of conditions in diverse settings, we have interviewed tens of thousands of people to understand the costs that they face in using health services, including everything from transport costs, to costs of food, shelter or accommodation, costs of child care, lost income, under the counter payments to public sector providers (which we never found), fees paid to private providers or money spent at pharmacies. This research consistently showed that the level of catastrophic spending was very low. Our performance on financial risk protection is outstanding. I celebrate the work of those colleagues that shepherded in the removal of user fees in our national health system during the dawning of our democracy. We should all be thanking them.

Despite these successes on Universal Health Coverage, there are areas of concern for the South African health system. We do not achieve health outcomes commensurate with our level of investment. My sense is that this is driven by our relatively high burden of disease; for example we continue to have the world’s largest HIV treatment programme. While our average life expectancy steadily increased with the introduction of antiretroviral therapy (although note the downturn from 2020 which coincides with the Covid-19 pandemic – see the below figure), the HIV epidemic has been a cruel setback that needs to be considered when we seek to make global comparisons on life expectancy and avertable mortality.

Global comparisons of life expectancy: 1970 – 2020

Source: United Nations World Population Prospects (2022) processed by Our World in Data. Accessed May 2024.

Now that the NHI Bill has become the NHI Act, it is time to move on from debates about whether we need NHI or not, and rather focus on how we can make the NHI work for us.

Our public sector will be the backbone of our future NHI and so we should seek to continue to strengthen this system. It would also be wise to put in place measures to strengthen our private system given that private providers are intended to play a key role in the NHI. We should be pragmatic.

The NHI includes many exciting opportunities for leveraging big data and artificial intelligence in health systems strengthening, but at this stage we hardly have any electronic health data. A clear step forward would be the further implementation of the National Digital Health Strategy (2019-2024) which includes the establishment of a patient electronic health record, amongst other needed developments.

In addition, the NHI places emphasis on the achievement of a purchaser provider split via establishing ‘Contracting Units for Primary Health Care’ (CUPS). These new entities will contract with both public and private providers within a defined geographic area, on behalf of a particular population. The establishment of CUP ‘proof of concept’ sites is therefore a priority, but must be done in a way that generates learning and enables adaptation to different contexts.

Let’s continue to push forward on many of these complex undertakings. It is going to take time, but it is needed, irrespective of the name that we choose to give to our health system.

*Cleary is professor of health economics and the head of the School of Public Health at the University of Cape Town.

Note: The views expressed in this opinion piece are not necessarily shared by the Spotlight editors. Spotlight is committed to publishing a variety of views and facilitating informed discussion that deepens public understanding of health issues.

Republished from Spotlight under a Creative Commons licence.

Source: Spotlight

FULL SPEECH | This is What will Happen Next Says Ramaphosa as He Signs NHI Bill into Law

President Cyril Ramaphosa at signing ceremony of the NHI Bill at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

Speech by Cyril Ramaphosa, article from Spotlight

President Cyril Ramaphosa yesterday signed into law the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill, which is the ANC-led government’s plan for universal health coverage, just 14 days before the country heads to the polls.

The NHI aims to unify the country’s fragmented health system, Ramaphosa said at the signing ceremony at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on Wednesday.

However, he also noted that processes are yet to be established and that the Act’s implementation will be incremental rather than a massive overnight overhaul.

Here are 8 noteworthy quotes from the President’s speech:

“[T]he NHI is a commitment to eradicating the stark inequalities that have long determined who receives adequate healthcare and who suffers from neglect”.

“[T]he NHI takes a bold stride towards a society where no individual must bear an untenable financial burden while seeking medical attention”.

“The real challenge in implementing the NHI lies not in the lack of funds, but in the misallocation of resources that currently favours the private health sector at the expense of public health needs.”

“The financial hurdles facing the NHI can be navigated with careful planning, strategic resource allocation and a steadfast commitment to achieving equity.”

“The NHI recognises the respective strengths and capabilities of the public and private health care systems. It aims to ensure that they complement and reinforce each other.”

“The NHI is an important instrument to tackle poverty. The rising cost of health care makes families poorer. By contrast, health care provided through the NHI frees up resources in poor families for other essential needs.”

“Following the signing of this Bill, we will be establishing the systems and putting in place the necessary governance structures to implement the NHI based on the primary health care approach.”

“The implementation of the NHI will be done in a phased approach, with key milestones in each phase, rather than an overnight event.”

Here is Ramaphosa’s full prepared speech:


Minister of Health, Dr Joe Phaahla,
MECs of Health,
Senior Officials,
Representatives of the health fraternity,
Representatives of civil society,
Representatives of labour,
Members of Parliament’s Portfolio and Select Committees,
Public representatives,
Members of the media,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are gathered here today to witness the signing into law of the National Health Insurance Bill, a pivotal moment in the transformation of our country.

It is a milestone in South Africa’s ongoing quest for a more just society.

This transformational health care initiative gives further effect to our constitutional commitment to progressively realise access to health care services for all its citizens.

At its essence, the NHI is a commitment to eradicate the stark inequalities that have long determined who receives adequate healthcare and who suffers from neglect.

By putting in place a system that ensures equal access to health care regardless of a person’s social and economic circumstances, the NHI takes a bold stride towards a society where no individual must bear an untenable financial burden while seeking medical attention.

This vision is not just about social justice. It is also about efficiency and quality.

The provision of health care in this country is currently fragmented, unsustainable and unacceptable.

The public sector serves a large majority of the population, but faces budget constraints. The private sector serves a fraction of society at a far higher cost without a proportional improvement in health outcomes.

Addressing this imbalance requires a radical reimagining of resource allocation and a steadfast commitment to universal healthcare, a commitment we made to the United Nations.

The real challenge in implementing the NHI lies not in the lack of funds, but in the misallocation of resources that currently favours the private health sector at the expense of public health needs.

The NHI Bill presents an innovative approach to funding universal healthcare based on social solidarity.

It proposes a comprehensive strategy that combines various financial resources, including both additional funding and reallocating funds already in the health system.

This approach ensures contributions from a broader spectrum of society, emphasising the shared responsibility and mutual benefits envisioned by the NHI.

The financial hurdles facing the NHI can be navigated with careful planning, strategic resource allocation and a steadfast commitment to achieving equity.

The NHI carries the potential to transform the healthcare landscape, making the dream of quality, accessible care a reality for all its citizens.

The NHI Fund will procure services from public and private service providers to ensure all South Africans have access to quality health care.

The NHI recognises the respective strengths and capabilities of the public and private health care systems. It aims to ensure that they complement and reinforce each other.

Through more effective collaboration between the public and private sectors, we can ensure that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The effective implementation of the NHI depends on the collective will of the South African people.

We all need to embrace a future where healthcare is a shared national treasure, reflective of the dignity and value we accord to every South African life.

Preparations for the implementation of NHI necessarily require a focused drive to improve the quality of health care.

We have already begun implementing a national quality improvement plan in public and private health care facilities, and are now seeing vast improvement.

In signing this Bill, we are signalling our determination to advance the constitutional right to access health care as articulated in Section 27 of the Constitution.

The passage of the Bill sets the foundation for ending a parallel inequitable health system where those without means are relegated to poor health care.

Under the NHI, access to quality care will be determined by need not by ability to pay. This will produce better health outcomes and prevent avoidable deaths.

The NHI is an important instrument to tackle poverty.

The rising cost of health care makes families poorer.

By contrast, health care provided through the NHI frees up resources in poor families for other essential needs.

The NHI will make health care in the country as a whole more affordable.

The way health care services will be paid for is meant to contain comprehensive health care costs and to ensure the available resources are more efficiently used.

Through the NHI, we plan to improve the effectiveness of health care provision by requiring all health facilities to achieve minimum quality health standards and be accredited.

Following the signing of this Bill, we will be establishing the systems and putting in place the necessary governance structures to implement the NHI based on the primary health care approach.

The implementation of the NHI will be done in a phased approach, with key milestones in each phase, rather than an overnight event.

There has been much debate about this Bill. Some people have expressed concern. Many others have expressed support.

What we need to remember is that South Africa is a constitutional democracy.

The Parliament that adopted this legislation was democratically-elected and its Members carried an electoral mandate to establish a National Health Insurance.

South Africa is also a country governed by the rule of law in which no person may be unduly deprived of their rights.

We are a country that has been built on dialogue and partnership, on working together to overcome differences in pursuit of a better life for all its people.

The NHI is an opportunity to make a break with the inequality and inefficiency that has long characterised our approach to the health of the South African people.

Let us work together, in a spirit of cooperation and solidarity, to make the NHI work.

I thank you.

Republished from Spotlight under a Creative Commons licence.

Source: Spotlight

Signing of NHI Bill into Law has no Effect Yet

Disappointment as President prepares to sign flawed bill

The announcement that President Cyril Ramaphosa will sign the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill into law this week without seeking much-needed revisions is disappointing, although not unexpected, according to the Health Funders Association (HFA).

“The HFA has been preparing for this day, despite our strong belief that a more collaborative approach between the public and private sectors is essential for achieving Universal Health Coverage [UHC] in a timely and effective manner,” says Craig Comrie, HFA Chairperson.

“We are deeply disappointed that the opportunity to review certain flawed sections of the NHI Bill has been missed, as the HFA sees enormous potential for leveraging the strengths of both public and private healthcare to expand access to quality care for all South Africans.

“Throughout the NHI Bill’s development process, the association submitted recommendations centred on collaboration and maximising the sustainability of healthcare provision through the use of a multi-funding model to build the South African healthcare system,” he says.

“Even with the President signing the NHI Bill into law on Wednesday, there will be no immediate impact on medical scheme benefits and contributions, nor any tax changes. The HFA is well prepared to defend the rights of medical scheme members and all South Africans to choose privately funded healthcare, where necessary.

“Our focus, as always, is on protecting and expanding access to quality healthcare for all South Africans. As we await the finer details of the President’s signing, we wish to assure all South Africans that we are ready for this next step,” Comrie says.

“The HFA will continue monitoring developments closely and share updates as necessary. Our goal remains the same: a healthcare system that works for all South Africans, and we will take all necessary actions to support that goal.”

Ramaphosa to Sign NHI into Law: What does This Mean for SA Doctors – and Can We Fix It?

President Cyril Ramaphosa has finished “looking for a pen” to sign the National Health Insurance (NHI) bill into law, and is set to approve the legislation on Wednesday, May 15.

While this “electioneering” move comes as a surprise to many, some experts anticipated this timing. With its signing, the legal battles over it will now begin. An array of medical and professional associations are readying their court papers, armed with numerous expert objections and petitions finding fault with the bill, widely criticised as unaffordable, demoralising and disastrous. But what will it look like in the end? Is it in fact an opportunity to fix public and private healthcare for the better?

To understand the NHI bill’s consequences and possible remedies better, Quicknews asked medico-legal specialist Martin Versfeld of Webber Wentzel & Associates about the legal aspects of the NHI bill, what it means for doctors in private practice, what can be done to ensure it fixes SA healthcare instead of damaging it further, and what its likely outcomes will be.

“The inequality of South Africa’s healthcare situation is not lost on anyone, least of all those in healthcare,” Martin says. “I think every healthcare professional, every hospital group, every healthcare provider recognises a need to assist South Africans more generally and to ensure there is better access to healthcare.”

Examination of the NHI bill has shown that it will simply exacerbate the problem, with possible wider consequences for the country’s economy (If Eskom’s load shedding is anything to go by – Ed). Viable alternatives towards repairing the beleaguered public healthcare system have been suggested, but political pressures have seen the bill signed into law. At this point, it is a certainty that it will face a barrage of litigation.

NHI, the mirage on the horizon

While the NHI is now set to be signed into law, there were efforts to persuade President Ramaphosa to not sign it. Recently, a South African Health Care Practitioners (SAHCP) petition was presented that contains a number of points and precedent to other laws that were rejected due to serious concerns. This petition had gathered 23 000 signatures from healthcare professionals.

Martin believes that it is a very effective petition, and it may have ‘resonated’ except for its timing. “The challenge that we face here is that it is an election year,” he points out. So while this petition and other appeals to the President to reject the legislation might have merit, and may have otherwise succeeded, it is extremely unlikely that Ramaphosa could go against his party’s goals.

“The NHI is a centrepiece, arguably, of the ANC’s election manifesto and they will be very reluctant to signal a climb-down at this point. So I think Cyril, as much as he might personally take a view that, under different circumstances, would be appropriate – I think he’d be under enormous pressure simply to sign the legislation into law.”

The time to act, with the most impact, will be after the elections.

As soon as NHI is signed into law, there will be a tidal wave of litigation, predicts Martin. This will be the next best time to challenge it. There are two avenues; whether the entire legislation is struck down as unconstitutional, or when it comes to the nitty gritty of implementation, when “the plethora of regulations are introduced.”

Even absent the court battles that will be waged, it will take years to fully implement NHI. Martin points out the length of the process, “The NHI is not going to be implemented to the full extent of what the legislation provides from the get go,” he says – it simply can’t be.

“It will be introduced incrementally by way of the introduction of regulations. So what I would expect as a first step would be to introduce the infrastructure required in order to create this collective pooling of funds.

“They will also be regulations which empower Nicholas Crisp and others to employ the essential staffing required to start to implement NHI.

“So it’s envisaged that there will be a very long process.”

‘Decades of litigation’

“Once the legislation takes effect, of course, the doctors and other stakeholders, including the medical schemes, will have an opportunity to carefully review the legislation and take a view as to whether or not they wish to, at this juncture, challenge certain aspects of that legislation on the basis of the – amongst other things – lack of constitutionality thereof.”

Martin stresses that the objections that have been lodged and engagements made to-date are not wasted effort. “It’s very important that the court sees and appreciates all the efforts that the industry has made in order to engage practically and meaningfully with the government. If nothing else, it puts the government on the back foot and the healthcare providers on the front foot.”

“This is not a matter which anyone is going to take lying down,” he says.

The South African Medical Association (SAMA) is one of the organisations that have already signalled intent to litigate against the NHI if it is signed into law.

Speaking at a media briefing, SAMA’s chairperson, Dr Mvuyisi Mzukwa, said that the NHI bill will impact not only health professionals, but the country as a whole.

“SAMA has, on various platforms, made its position known that, as doctors, we swore an oath of service to those who seek healthcare from us. We do not believe this Bill will achieve what it purports to do,” he said.

The notion of how physicians resist unjust situations is a relatively new one, since the patient takes priority. Unlike worker resistance, which makes use of strikes and disobedience, the resistance of physicians must work within power structure and never compromise patient care. According to a study by Wyatt et al., “physician resistance includes a refusal to comply with professional expectations of limiting their concerns to the bodily care of patients.” Their review found that physicians have often engaged in resistance when their personal and professional interests were threatened, particularly around issues of autonomy.

Keep calm and carry on?

Despite its name, NHI would not actually provide healthcare insurance – instead Section 33 introduces a financing and single-supplier mechanism reminiscent of Eskom’s doomed model.

For most in the healthcare industry, section 33 is the greatest source of uncertainty and concern. It essentially eliminates medical schemes – but those reallocated funds only account for a fraction of the NHI’s true cost. However, this provision only comes into play once NHI is fully implemented – which could take decades, or just never happen, because of its sheer cost. The real threat, Martin says, is the perception and fear around NHI.

Martin has heard of “very negative consequences,” such as on the “decision on the part of students to study medicine; on professionals to stay committed to being in South Africa, leading to significant emigration on the part of healthcare professionals.

“For me, the real concern is less about whether or not NHI will ultimately be implemented in its current form, because I don’t believe it will be simply because we can’t afford it.”

Even if it is implemented, Martin suspects that many doctors will simple opt to operate on a cash basis, and wealthy individuals would be able to pay for specialists, expensive chronic medications and extended hospital stays. Though with the average age of specialists now at around 61, up from 53 in 1996, they may be in short supply in coming years.

There is also the question over what impact the mere threat of NHI will have on those with money and the ability to invest in the economy. Martin is “very anxious about the push factor associated with the perception that we can no longer get the required healthcare services.”

At some point it becomes a question of whether high net worth individuals can afford to pay for private healthcare, like they currently do for solar panels and generators to deal with the loadshedding crisis, and if that becomes a push factor to make them emigrate, taking their wealth, skills and economic contribution with them.

Implementation is still an open question

The devil is in the details, and in this case it is the thousands of specific regulations which will have to be rolled out in order to turn NHI from a law on paper into an actual functioning system.

Martin believes that it is quite likely that the NHI will end up only being partially implemented, if at all. Many of the requirements are quite steep.

All health users will need to have an electronic health record, for example – it will be a colossal undertaking to link South Africa’s 60 million plus, heavily rural, population, not far off of the UK’s 67 million. Just to get such a system running will take years. Still, a nationwide database would be extremely valuable for healthcare.

Even so, the NHI pilot projects failed to deliver on their promise of patient-centric care; the final report on the NHI Phase 1 interventions found that success was driven by factors which included “strong political will, adequate human and financial resources for implementation, good coordination and communication and good monitoring systems in place at the time of implementation.” Factors which worked against the interventions included “inadequate planning, lack of resources, inconsistent communication a lack of coordination where necessary and insufficient mechanisms to monitor progress to ensure course correction.”

(Of the two groups of factors, government initiatives have almost always landed squarely in the latter category – Ed)

In the end, where is the money?

There also is simply no money for the NHI, which is estimated by the Freedom Foundation to cost up to R1 trillion (more, even, than the much decried public wage bill) for full implementation.

Doctors in many provinces are unemployed as their health departments struggle under budget cuts. The Western Cape for example, has a hiring freeze, creating additional workload as positions go unfilled. The strain is being felt by doctors and nurses in hospitals. Already a petition of 1200 HCPs has been sent to the WC government’s offices. Centralised support from the National Department of Health has, in fact, been going backwards, with a number of wage-related issues being dropped squarely on the, already beleaguered, Provincial departments.

The NHI is also without historical precedent, as Martin says “no country that has introduced a form of National Health Insurance has sought to exclude the ability of the private sector to, in parallel, offer an insured medical service.” Ghana trialled a form of national health insurance, only for it to quietly fade away. The system involved capitation, in which a predetermined flat payment is paid to a provider to cover a defined benefit package of services for a patient. In theory, this forces cost containment onto providers.

It is important to note that schemes on the scale of NHI have only been achieved in a mere handful of countries, a list which consists almost entirely of very wealthy countries, with strong tax bases. South Africa’s situation is very different.

“We have a tiny tax base with a massive disease burden,” Martin points out.

Big in Japan

The country that successfully implemented such an initiative the fastest was probably Japan: “it took them 40 years or so,” Martin noted.

Japan, a country noted for the longevity of its people, has a massive tax base and a tiny disease burden, Martin points out. Indeed, for decades it was the world’s second largest economy. Hardly an act that a developing country like South Africa can try and follow in a matter of years, especially when a wealthy country, like the UK, has been struggling to maintain its own NHS.

The economic consequences of attempting it would be a huge tax increase, with high net worth individuals leaving.

Meanwhile, South Africa is a healthcare tourism destination for residents of wealthy countries that have national healthcare, because it has a world-class private health care industry. That source of international income would also fade away, under NHI.

Stick and carrot: building the NHI that South Africa needs

Nevertheless, there is a way forward to Universal Health Care, through successful public-private partnerships.

SAMA’s position also reflects this. “We believe that any form of health reform must be based on a health system that is built on adequate human resources for health, access to essential drugs, medicines and vaccines, suitably utilising evidence-based policies, ethical leadership and governance, as well as being built on digital and technologically integrated systems,” Mzukwa said.

Once the dust from the election settles, then the time will come for healthcare professionals and associations to properly engage with the government on NHI, as it is faced with the reality of implementation.

In that case, Martin says, once government has “considered the cost more carefully and agreed that they need to be more receptive to offers of collaboration with the private healthcare space,” then it can “accept that medical schemes as we know and understand them today can continue to exist and provide a parallel support to those who can afford to pay for medical schemes.”

What can doctors do? Martin advises that they carry on working through their associations. The various healthcare groupings are collaborating to both benefit the government and also to litigate and challenge the legislation and regulations. But these two aims should not be separated into two separate efforts, he says.

“I think there should continue to be an effort to collaborate collectively, to come up with positive solutions for the benefit of all South Africans. I think equally they will obviously have to, in parallel, to the extent necessary, litigate – I believe litigation is entirely inevitable, but they’ll need to collaborate around that.”

BHF Annual Conference Concludes with Key NHI Insights and Roadmap for SA’s Healthcare Future

Photo by Pexels on Pixabay

After what was an insightful and collaborative meeting of the minds of healthcare professionals and experts at the 2024 BHF Annual Conference, the final day concluded by providing crucial insights into regulatory reforms shaping the future of healthcare in South Africa, as well as the legalities surrounding the controversial NHI Bill.  

Facilitated by Nomo Khumalo, BHF Director and Head of Solutions at MMI Health, part one of the discussion comprised the key regulatory responses essential for building a resilient health system capable of navigating beyond current barriers. 

Among the notable delegates participating in the discussion were Vincent Tlala, Registrar and CEO of the South African Pharmacy Council; Dr Magome Masike, Registrar of the Health Professions Council of South Africa; Dr Thandi S Mabeba, Chairperson of the Council for Medical Schemes; Dr Mark Blecher, Chief Director of Health and Social Development at the National Treasury; Yoliswa Makhasi, Director General of DPSA; and Dr Sandile Buthelezi, Director-General of the National Department of Health. 

Their expertise across the healthcare regulatory sector added invaluable insights into the state of the sector, where they explored the current policy landscape, analysed the intent of reforms versus the realities, and discussed necessary changes for policymakers to ensure healthcare sustainability. 

While all dignitaries note the need for Universal Health Coverage (UHC) to bridge the gap in access to healthcare in South Africa, Dr Sandile Buthelezi, acknowledged the complexity of implementing the NHI and the need for a phased approach. To this end, Buthelezi cited that significant work is required to establish the fund, develop regulations, and set up administrative structures.

“Apart from this, optimising healthcare delivery requires prioritising resource utilisation through proper management and spending, and addressing managerial issues to utilise available resources effectively,” suggests Buthelezi. 

“Regulatory reforms are essential for advancing healthcare, encompassing standardised data collection, quality enhancement, and informed policy evolution. Moreover, the integration of digital health strategies is paramount, leveraging technology to bolster comprehensive health information systems and elevate healthcare delivery.”

Amidst the discussions, a common thread resonated among all dignitaries: the vital importance of collaboration. Here, Buthelezi stressed the necessity for stakeholders within the healthcare sector to unite in pursuit of shared goals, emphasising the need to improve health outcomes and effectively tackle challenges through collaborative efforts.

Following this, the conversation swung to the legalities of the impending NHI Bill in a session chaired by Michelle Beneke of Michelle Beneke Attorneys Inc, and featured industry experts Neil Kirby, Director at Werksmans Attorneys, and David Geral, Partner at Bowmans.

The conversation focused on the several facets of the implementation of the Bill, including its constitutionality, lack of government response to engagement efforts, and the broader regulatory challenges facing the healthcare industry.

According to Kirby, Werksman Attorneys, as legal representatives of BHF, have closely monitored the evolution of the NHI Bill, thoroughly scrutinising its alignment with South Africa’s constitutional principles.

“Regrettably, the implementation process hasn’t yielded a bill that adequately addresses our constitutional concerns. Despite incremental progress and assurances of future adjustments, the current iteration falls short of meeting the constitutional litmus test. 

“As stakeholders directly impacted by the bill’s implications, we cannot afford to overlook constitutional shortcomings. Our obligation demands rigorous adherence to constitutional standards, ensuring that any legislation enacted upholds the rights and principles enshrined in our constitution,” he says. 

To this end, Geral adds that the Bill introduces significant changes to the healthcare system, which may potentially affect tax policy and revenue sources. 

In closing the conference, Dr Katlego Mothudi, Managing Director at BHF, emphasised the success of the conference in addressing industry challenges while promoting sustainability across the healthcare sector. 

“As we conclude this enlightening conference, we reflect on the breadth of topics covered, from disease burden to the transformative potential of digitisation and AI in healthcare. Our discussions underscored the necessity of embracing change, combating fraud, and fostering regional collaboration. 

“With a firm focus on healthcare reform, particularly the intricacies of the NHI Bill, our gathering has propelled us toward a future marked by innovation, resilience, sustainability and collective action. In the words of Edgar Tan – we can have what we need if we use what we have,” he concludes.

More Practical Solutions for SA’s Health Future 

Health funding options towards Universal Health Coverage

Photo by Kindel Media

The funding required to initiate and sustain the National Health Insurance (NHI) project, aimed at achieving Universal Health Coverage for South Africa, has healthcare industry experts and some of the country’s leading economists raising fundamental questions about its financial viability as outlined in the NHI Bill.

“South Africa needs actionable solutions now to broaden healthcare access and improve affordability however, with the current debt to GDP ratio and many demands on the public purse, it is difficult to see how the State could afford to finance the NHI alone, as outlined in the NHI Bill,” said Craig Comrie, chairperson of the Health Funders Association (HFA).

“The existing regulatory framework could offer a more viable springboard to achieve the aims of Universal Health Coverage sooner through collaborative healthcare initiatives that improve healthcare access for all South Africans.”

He points out the substantial financial commitment demanded by the NHI, noting that an initial allocation of more than R20 billion has already been disbursed. “This allocation, which is merely the tip of the iceberg, accentuates the magnitude of the financial hurdle that lies ahead for the country and its people if the NHI Bill is enacted in its current form,” Comrie says.

“In the current economic climate marked by reduced GDP and tax collections, financing the NHI presents an impossible task for National Treasury, particularly with the exclusion of private health funding collaboration.

“We are therefore urging the Presidency to prioritise the exploration of alternative pathways towards realising Universal Health Coverage in South Africa. There is a critical, urgent need to reassess and redirect vital resources towards more pressing national priorities than the NHI’s potentially unsustainable framework.

“This is a heavy financial burden for the South African taxpayer to shoulder, particularly at this time, with cost projections ranging from R200 billion to a staggering R500 to R800 billion annually if fully implemented. This exorbitant sum, dwarfing recent and future government bailouts, presents an insurmountable challenge given our economic downturn and diminished tax revenue,” asserts Comrie.

The HFA, a professional body representing the majority of medical schemes in South Africa, proposes leveraging the existing regulatory framework to expedite Universal Health Coverage through collaborative healthcare initiatives, emphasising the urgency of exploring viable alternatives.

Comrie also addresses the limitations of tax increases as a revenue solution, emphasising the strain it not only places on families but on the broader economy.

“While NHI implementation may be decades away, we recognise that immediate action is imperative to enhance affordability and access to quality healthcare. We, therefore, must prioritise exploring sustainable solutions rooted in economic viability,” he urges.

“At this stage, realistic timelines for NHI implementation will be decades away, and in the meantime, there is much we could be doing to improve affordability and access to quality healthcare for more South Africans. A good starting place would be to finalise the Low Cost Benefit Options framework and ensure regular reviews of Prescribed Minimum Benefits [PMBs].

Highlighting the current ambiguity surrounding NHI services and the staggering cost projections, Comrie stresses the critical need for clarity from the Minister of Finance.

He emphasises that the HFA’s stance is firmly rooted in a deep commitment to quality healthcare and the implementation of sustainable solutions that can definitively grow accessibility. This mission necessitates prudent financial planning and a steadfast commitment to transparency in healthcare financing.

“With Treasury facing an impossible task to finance the NHI in its current proposed form, all alternatives must be considered. As a country, we cannot afford to gamble on a project lacking clear direction and financial viability.

“We advocate for a recalibration of priorities, urging policymakers to explore collaborative healthcare initiatives to deliver healthcare funding solutions within well-researched reforms including those indicated in the Health Market Inquiry.

“Now almost five years later, the reforms suggested by the Competition Commission have yet to be actioned. South Africans cannot wait decades for NHI implementation, and the real question is, can we afford to embark on this unproven and unrealistic model,” he asks.

“NHI is not the sole path to Universal Health Coverage, nor is it the most expedient. We must pursue reforms rooted in economic viability to safeguard healthcare assets and extend access. As the HFA continues to champion sustainable healthcare solutions, we affirm our commitment to preserve South Africa’s healthcare landscape for the benefit of all citizens,” he concludes.

Patient-centred Health Care: The NHI Revolution You Deserve

A patient-centred health system will remain an illusion under the NHI unless the public health system is ramped up to better serve users and a clear path is outlined for public-private partnerships, argue Bernard Mutsago and Haseena Majid.

By Bernard Mutsago and Haseena Majid

National Health Insurance (NHI) is South Africa’s chosen financing vehicle for Universal Health Coverage (UHC). The plan is a step closer to being a reality after the NHI bill was passed by Parliament’s National Council of Provinces on 6 December 2023. The legislation aims for a single NHI fund that will buy services from public and private providers, it will be free at the point of delivery, and will prevent medical schemes from covering services that the NHI provides. The bill is likely to soon be signed into law by President Cyril Ramaphosa, although it may take years before all sections of the bill will come into force.

However, achieving a universal, affordable, high-quality, comprehensive, and patient-focused health system under the NHI will remain an illusion unless shortcomings of the public health system is fixed to meet the needs of the public. This can be achieved through a structured system that enables efficient and equitable pooling and distribution of resources across the public, private, and civil society sectors to improve service delivery.

As it stands, the absence of a clear framework for public-private partnerships in health service delivery is a barrier to progressive planning.

South Africa, over the last decade, has seen a significant decline in the state of its health sector. Despite initiatives such as the primary healthcare (PHC) re-engineering programme, and outreach services to improve service access, the health system faces a myriad of challenges. Budget constraints have crippled our human resource capacity. Corruption, maladministration, and neglect have resulted in the decay of facilities and their inability to withstand the increasing demands for basic and complex health services.

Most importantly, the data management system, public administration processes, and the referral pathways require significant intervention to align with the digital age and the potential role of artificial intelligence to improve health service delivery. The result is a poorly representative and possibly outdated set of data indicators to inform health service delivery needs that are contextual to geographic and institutional needs.

Applying a blanket approach to health interventions, in the absence of a significantly strengthened data collection and assessment pathway has led to questionable methods to achieving universal healthcare via NHI. The implementation of NHI pilot sites in the build-up to delivering the NHI has failed to show how the health system will move from the current curative approach to a more patient-centred approach. Failing to establish the patient-centred pathway at the onset from the public administration and health service delivery system, will result in the ongoing reality of some people being unable to access the health services closest to them at the lowest cost. It also has an extended impact on preventive strategies for better health outcomes.

South Africa has a fragmented, two-tiered and inequitable health system in which about only 17% of the population in 2018 had medical aid coverage, while more than 80% of the population are largely dependent on the public health sector. This is according to the Competition Commission’s final Health Market Inquiry report, released in November 2019.

The pathway to universal healthcare should entail crucial actions like maintaining and strengthening healthcare infrastructure and implementing strategic initiatives to bolster the workforce through robust recruitment, retention drives, and public-private collaborations.

But attention to these vital steps have been diverted by the government’s emphasis on a specific funding model -the NHI – The plan has faced considerable pushback with criticism, , largely rooted in the government’s inability to deliver essential services, theft due to corruption and cadre deployment, to the detriment of health users. These concerns  have been ignored. Instead, the determination to move ahead with the NHI amid outcries from the health sector, academics, and civil society is likely driven by politics.

Lessons from Ghana

Ghana’s failed NHI experiment is a luminous example for many countries attempting different financing models for delivering UHC. Ghana’s attempted NHI approach was taken off the national policy agenda due to public political opposition, weak civil society mobilisation, and low trust in the political leadership. This begs the question of whether due diligence was taken by the crafters of the NHI to establish the viability and sustainability of this model within the South African context.

Government needs fertile collaboration to materialise any policy goals. Whereas the NHI Bill has already been passed by the legislature, the successful implementation of the policy is dependent on people beyond the political realm. Engagements to structure and implement the operational plan for the NHI requires that government take on an approach that shows its willingness and commitment to take input from across all sectors, embrace the criticism, and find an approach that unifies all actors within the health sector and financing space.

Public-private partnership 

A well-designed public-private partnership model, with strong monitoring and evaluation processes could offer an opportunity to create the foundation for a medium-term solution. This could improve resource capacity in the public health sector to address the current health service backlogs, improve health infrastructure and technology, and create a functional system between the public and private health sectors to harvest  accurate health data. A strengthened data collection system that is inclusive and reflective of all users of the health system is after all essential to craft a responsive health system rather than a reactive one, thus placing the patient central to the health system.

Additionally, structures for community participation to inform healthcare service delivery, such as clinic committees and hospital boards, need to be bolstered as they are currently poorly functioning or non-existent. Including all voices, especially those of the public and clinicians, is critical for establishing  a capable health system that offers equitable health access for all people. This is only achievable through amplified voices and a united call for government to urgently re-evaluate its current approach toward NHI implementation.

*Mutsago is a health policy analyst, health equity activist, and primary healthcare enthusiast and Majid is a Global Atlantic Fellow for Health Equity in South Africa and director of public health programmes at civil society organisation Usawa.

Republished from Spotlight under a Creative Commons licence.

Source: Spotlight

With Elections and NHI, This is a Big Year for Healthcare in SA

By Marcus Low

South Africa is barrelling towards its most consequential and most competitive national and provincial elections since 1994, expected to take place in May. That the ANC’s share of the vote, will be further eroded this year seems inevitable, given ongoing power cuts, failing railways, water management problems, high crime rates, and dysfunctional basic education and public health systems.

Covering elections is tricky at the best of times for media houses. At Spotlight, we plan to follow the advice of Jay Rosen, journalism professor at New York University, to focus on reporting “not the odds, but the stakes”. As far as the odds does go, however, it seems likely that the ANC – alone or in coalition – will govern nationally, but they could lose power in the country’s two most populous provinces, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

The stakes in these two provinces could not be higher when it comes to healthcare. The day-to-day running of our public healthcare system is after all the domain of provincial health departments.

Limping from crisis to crisis

Take Gauteng. From alleged health department corruption worth more than R1.2 billion in 2007/2008, to the Life Esidemini tragedy of 2016, to more recent issues such as the lacklustre response to alleged corruption at Tembisa Hospital, ongoing problems with food and security contracts, and the persecution of whistleblowers like Dr Tim de Maayer, the province’s health department has stumbled from crisis to crisis under the ANC for well over a decade now. New starts under new members of the executive council (MECs) and heads of department have been a dime a dozen, but if anything, the quality of governance has decayed over time. What is at stake is literally basics like whether there is sufficient food available for people in hospital.

There is, of course, no guarantee that this atrocious situation will be turned around if, for instance, a multi-party coalition of the DA, Action SA and others run the province – but the prospect of such a change certainly is intriguing. Just imagine the DA’s Jack Bloom having a go as Gauteng’s MEC for Health after decades of holding other MECs and heads of department to account from the sidelines.

The future of NHI

The year’s other headlining health story seems set to again be National Health Insurance (NHI), which promises healthcare for all – employed or unemployed – South Africans, permanent residents, refugees, inmates, and specific categories of foreign nationals. After making it through parliament at the end of last year, the NHI Bill is likely to be signed into law by President Cyril Ramaphosa any day now. Much of the bill won’t come into effect for quite some time, and we are sure to see several court cases challenging its constitutionality. There is also an outside chance that later this year the balance of power in parliament could shift against NHI, or at least certain elements of NHI. It is not too much of a stretch to say the future of NHI is one of several important things on the line at the ballot box.

Also at stake in the elections is government’s response to seemingly intractable problems like South Africa’s shortage of healthcare workers, budget shortfalls, and health sector corruption. It would be naïve to think a change in power will solve these problems overnight – much of the world is struggling with shortages of healthcare workers and South Africa’s budget restraints are all too real, but some will argue that a change in power may nevertheless be a necessary first step given the extent to which all three of these issues have been allowed to drift in recent years. There is certainly an argument to be made that the current lack of progress is rooted in a lack of state capacity and that the lack of state capacity, in turn, is a consequence of the ANC’s explicit policy of cadre deployment.

Whether or not voters again back the ANC, some specific questions should provide a good gauge of progress in 2024. Will we finally see convictions for the alleged corruption uncovered by public servant Babita Deokaran? Will government publish an implementation plan for addressing our healthcare worker crisis (we already have a good strategy) and, this is the key, put money and political capital behind its implementation? Will the new parliament pass a good State Liability Bill (which could help reduce the state’s liability for medico-legal claims) and finally get round to amending South Africa’s Patents Act to better balance medicine monopolies with the right to health (as set out in a policy adopted by cabinet back in 2018)? Will the establishment of the National Public Health Institute of South Africa remain stalled? Will government continue to ignore recommendations from the Competition Commission’s Health Market Inquiry on how to better regulate private healthcare in South Africa (the commission’s very impressive report was published in 2019)? Will the new health MECs and heads of provincial health departments appointed after the elections bring real change?

HIV, TB and NCDs

The National Department of Health has generally produced good HIV and tuberculosis (TB) policy over the last decade or so. In some respects, those policies have been well implemented – think the massive amount of HIV testing done in the country, in other respects they have been undermined by the general dysfunction in the public healthcare system – think long queues, staff shortages, and poor TB screening and infection control. Some innovations, like pills to prevent HIV or new TB treatments, could have been rolled out more quickly and better marketed to users.

At stake in the elections is thus not so much whether we produce good policies in areas such as HIV, TB and non-communicable diseases (NCDs), but whether we will get the leadership we need to ensure better and faster implementation of those policies.

On the HIV front, we will be keeping a close eye this year on the ongoing rollout of HIV prevention pills. While the rollout has gathered some momentum in recent years, the pills are generally still too hard to get hold of for those who could most benefit from it. Pilot projects should shed light on how to best make breakthrough new HIV prevention injections available in South Africa, but the high price of these injections is likely to mean the many young women who could most benefit from it won’t be able to get it.

New HIV figures from Thembisa, the leading mathematical model of HIV in South Africa, will be keenly watched this year since it will integrate recent findings from the  Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) survey (which contained some unexpectedly positive numbers). On the negative side, the HSRC survey also indicated that condom use was significantly down in 2022 compared to 2017 – this while a recent HIV investment case found that condoms are the only cost-saving HIV intervention for the health system. Either way, the extent to which condoms are made easily available will remain an important measure of government’s commitment to fighting HIV, both now and after the elections.

Last year, we saw significant changes in how TB is tested for and treated in South Africa. In short, many more people became eligible for TB tests and eligibility for TB preventive therapy was dramatically expanded. How impactful these new policies will be this year will depend on how well they are implemented, which again brings us back to the ongoing problems of healthcare worker shortages and a lack of management capacity in most of our provincial health departments. Maybe then, in a context of generally reasonable HIV and TB policy, what matters is not so much what different political parties have to offer on these diseases specifically, but what they can do to improve the functioning of our healthcare system more generally.

That said, one notable thing with TB is that, despite South Africa having often made good TB policy and having played an important role in raising the profile of TB at the United Nations, TB has never really become a political or elections issue here in the way one might expect from a disease that claims over 50 000 lives, of mostly poor people, in the country per year. So far, there is no indication that any political parties are set to change this in 2024.

Finally, while the long-term trends with HIV and TB are downward, the trend with non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes and hypertension in South Africa is in the opposite direction. Government has set HIV-style diabetes and hypertension targets and published a national plan, but again there are serious questions about whether these plans will be implemented and whether the public health system has the capacity to offer the levels of testing, treatment and care that is required. Meanwhile, breakthrough weight loss medicines that made headlines in 2023 are likely to remain out of reach for most people in South Africa and interventions like the sugar tax will remain highly contested before and after the elections.

Whatever happens at the ballot box, one thing is clear, given the rising NCD threat, healthcare worker shortages, budget shortfalls, and endemic corruption, whoever is in power nationally and provincially after this year’s elections will have their work cut out for them. While we will not endorse any political parties at Spotlight, we do urge voters to consider what is at stake in these elections when it comes to healthcare. Part of the picture will of course be painted by political party manifestos (which we will analyse in detail in the coming months), but as important as the policies, is the track record of what parties have done when they’ve held power. Whether in Gauteng, the Western Cape, or nationally, voters will hopefully send a clear message on whether or not they think those currently in power are on the right track.

*Low is editor of Spotlight.

NOTESpotlight is editorially independent and is not affiliated with, nor does it endorse any political parties. Spotlight is a member of the South African Press Council.

Republished from Spotlight under a Creative Commons licence.

Source: Spotlight

Does NHI Spell the End for Medical Aid and Gap Cover?

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

South Africa’s National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill would, if passed in its current form, completely disrupt the medical sector in the country and would inevitably reshape the role of medical schemes as well as gap cover.

However, the implementation of NHI does not necessarily mean that medical aid and gap cover will no longer have a role to play, because there are many possible scenarios in which they will continue to be an important part of the landscape. It is important to understand your current coverage from both a medical aid and gap cover perspective so that when the NHI does come into effect, you can make an informed decision that will be best for your needs.

A long road ahead

Given the potential for the current NHI Bill to face legal challenges, we are driven by a shared responsibility to safeguard the health and well-being of all citizens. The risk of lengthy court battles cannot be underestimated, as they may inadvertently prolong the uncertainty and affect the timely implementation of essential healthcare reforms. According to Andre Jacobs, Marketing Manager at The People Company and Vice Chair of the FIA Health Exco, these challenges include constitutional, funding, affordability, policy and supply-side demand issues.

“There are also conflicting points of information within the current Bill that need to be resolved. For example, in Section 33, the Bill states that once NHI is implemented, medical schemes can play a top up role, which could mean different things. It could imply that they may only provide cover for anything that is not primary care, or that they may only provide specialised dentistry cover or advanced oncology treatment,” says Jacobs. 

“However, if one reads the definition of a health service and a health product with section 2(a) of the NHI Bill, it states that all health services will be provided by the NHI Fund and that they are the single purchaser and provider of health services. Therefore, whilst section 33 provides a role for medical schemes, it would be impossible to operate,” he adds.

A matter of speculation

The reality is that it is yet to be determined what benefits the NHI Fund will provide. This means that the role of medical schemes, and therefore the role of gap cover, is a matter of speculation at present. The structure of the current medical scheme and gap cover range may need to be adjusted to align with the NHI offering that is enacted.

This may lead to the design of products moving toward a defined benefit structure where a particular medical intervention, such as a broken leg, has a defined benefit that is paid out irrespective of the amount of cover provided by the NHI. This amount could then be utilised to pay for a private procedure. It is also likely that high-cost treatments such as specialised dentistry or advanced cancer treatment or biological medicine will not be provided by the NHI Fund. However, the regulations post-NHI will dictate what can be offered.

“If we use overseas experience by way of example, there will be a role for both National Health and private insurance products, where the private cover will provide additional benefits to complement the base offering of the NHI. For example, we often see this as providing a fast track for certain elective procedures that a person may need to address due to personal circumstances,” says Tony Singleton, CEO of Turnberry Management Risk Solutions. 

Make sure you are covered in any eventuality

“The goal of expanding universal healthcare should be supported, but rather than abolishing private healthcare, South Africa should leverage the private sector to expand the level of universal health cover. We can develop a dualistic healthcare system with the same universal coverage elements based on social solidarity principles, with a healthcare system that is accountable to the communities it serves. Transitioning to a more equitable healthcare system demands not only sound policy decisions, but also a shared commitment to overcoming societal attitudes and cultural beliefs that might hinder progress,” says Jacobs.

Private medical schemes are an asset that should be leveraged to drive healthcare innovation and foster advancements for the broader healthcare sector, and the healthcare system needs to provide meaningful choices through an accessible, inclusive, and adaptable system that caters to the diverse needs and preferences of the population.

Gap products currently play an important role in protecting your financial wellbeing in the event that medical expenses exceed what medical schemes will reimburse. In the current landscape, where the future state of the NHI is uncertain, there is still a definite need for both medical aid and gap cover to ensure access to quality private healthcare. In addition, gap cover for the use of non-Designated Service Providers (DSPs) will continue to be important even after a National Health product comes into effect.

“Before making any decisions, it is important to understand the cover provided by your medical aid and to understand any limitations that your plan may have. To assist you with this, it is useful to have your financial advisor review your medical aid coverage. They will be able to identify the type of gap product that will be most complementary to your Medical Aid plan whilst at the same time understanding your family’s unique health and financial situation,” Singleton concludes.

About Turnberry Management Risk Solutions

Founded in 2001, Turnberry is a registered financial services provider (FSP no. 36571) that specialises in Accident and Health Insurance, Travel Insurance, and Funeral Cover. With extensive experience across healthcare and insurance industries in South Africa, Turnberry offers unsurpassed service to Brokers and clients. Turnberry’s gap cover products are available to clients on all medical aid schemes, as they are independently provided and are therefore transferable in the event of a change in the client’s medical aid scheme. Turnberry is well represented nationally, with its Head Office based in Bedfordview, Johannesburg with Business Development Managers in Cape Town and Durban. The Turnberry Team’s focus on outstanding client service comes from having extensive knowledge and experience in the financial services sector and is underwritten by Lombard Insurance Company Limited. Lombard Insurance Company Limited is an Authorised Financial Services Provider (FSP 1596) and Insurer conducting non-life insurance business.

NHI Bill Threatens All Citizens’ Constitutional Rights

HFA outlines presidential petition to prevent decimation of the SA healthcare system

The NHI Bill presented to President Cyril Ramaphosa cannot be permitted, as in its current form, it will infringe the rights of all South Africans by destroying the South African healthcare system. The Health Funders Association (HFA) has petitioned the President to withhold assent of the Bill on constitutional and procedural grounds and intends to take the matter as far as necessary and to the Constitutional Court if need be.

“We have taken a strong stand by respectfully urging the President to withhold assent of the Bill, citing constitutional and procedural concerns that pose a significant threat to the integrity of the country’s healthcare system,” remarks HFA Chairperson Craig Comrie.

“Should the need arise, the HFA is prepared to escalate the matter to the courts. Our goal is to meticulously align the legislation with the authentic objectives of Universal Health Coverage and the principles enshrined in the South African Constitution.

“Our action in opposing the NHI Bill being signed into law protects the interests of ALL South Africans who will require healthcare in future, including the people we are duty-bound to safeguard through the medical schemes and healthcare administrators we represent,” Comrie says.

While expressing unwavering support for achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in South Africa, the HFA questions Parliament’s endorsement of a bill that raises significant constitutional and procedural concerns and fundamentally cannot achieve a sustainable system of UHC.

Some of the primary concerns outlined in the letter include:

  • Constitutional concerns: The NHI Bill’s clear infringement on constitutional rights, particularly the right to access healthcare and freedom of choice for South Africans, and by implication, the right to life. The Bill is seriously flawed in that regard, undermining the rule of law.
  • Procedural concerns: Questioning the extent and effectiveness of public consultation during the drafting and review of the NHI Bill, where thousands of submissions resulted in no meaningful changes to the Bill, the HFA advocates for a more inclusive and consultative approach.

The letter implores President Ramaphosa to exercise the powers granted by the Constitution to refer the NHI Bill back to Parliament for review.

“In addition to petitioning the President directly as guardian of the Constitution, the HFA will oppose the NHI Bill in its current form through every possible avenue, including approaching the courts to set aside the Bill on constitutional and procedural grounds.

“The HFA will also seek a High Court interdict against implementation of the NHI Act until the merits of our case have been heard and ruled upon by the High Court.

Craig Comrie concludes, “It is with a heavy heart that we make this plea, urging the President to secure the rights and wellbeing of our people. We will persist to ensure that what is right triumphs in our nation. South Africa deserves leadership that prioritises the welfare of all of its citizens, above all.”